Livestock farmers short of forage should consider growing brassica forage crops in cereal stubbles and reseeding a proportion of their grassland to maximise production next year. In either case, correct plant nutrients will be essential to guarantee yields.
With soil temperatures still high and recent rainfall, now is the ideal time to plant catch crops and reseed leys, advises crop production specialist Hutchinsons.
A brassica forage crop such as Winfred, which can be browsed by cattle and sheep, is a good option in stubble situations, says the company’s Stewart MacIntyre. “If farmers are looking for a short-term fix for forage, Italian ryegrass as in Clampbuster has large seeds with good vigorous growth and gives early autumn bite plus good early spring growth by growing down to 3°C degree soil temperature,” he continues.
“Where farmers are looking for a short to medium-term fix, a mixture based on Italian hybrid ryegrass such as Supersward works well. Supersward grows to about 6°C soil temperature so also gives early autumn bite plus good early spring growth with a greater persistence, but with a slightly lower yield expectation than Italian ryegrass.
“For a more medium to longer-term fix, Emerald can persist up to five years and Gold for up to seven. If you are aiming for a longer term ley, it is worth investing in reseeding. However, it’s important to make the correct choice of grass seed variety depending on what you are trying to achieve. Italians and hybrids are larger seeded and have greater germinative vigour, and therefore have a better chance of establishing within an existing sward,” he concludes.
Fertiliser supplier Yara adds that getting seedbed fertilisation right is important in establishing short term leys and forage brassica crops.
“The interest this autumn in short term leys and brassicas is phenomenal, but hardly surprising as farmers do whatever they can to fill a forage shortfall caused by a late spring and an extended drought,” notes Yara country grassland agronomist Philip Cosgrave.
“In general these crops are being sown after a cereal crop and therefore the soil nitrogen supply is likely to be low. With temporary leys following cereals Yara recommends up to 50 kg/ha of nitrogen, 50 kg/ha of phosphate (P2O5) and 50 kg/ha of potassium (K2O) applied at drilling. Fast growing grass leys also have a requirement for sulphur which is often forgotten.
“We would expect Italian ryegrass or Westerwolds to grow to a minimum height of 10 cm by the end of October which will require 75 kg of N - 50 kg from the bag and the rest from soil residual sources.
“Hybrid brassicas have similar nutrient requirements to forage rape and stubble turnips. We recommend up to 80 kg/ha of nitrogen, 25 kg/ha of phosphate (P2O5), 50 kg/ha of potassium (K2O) and 30 kg/ha of sulphur (SO3), preferably drilled with the seed or incorporated into the seedbed, rather than broadcast afterwards,” finishes Mr Cosgrave.